Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Research Helps Manufacturers, Investigators and Utilities Understand Usage and Charging UsageMar 28th, 2013 | By vgrieve | Category: Automotive
By Vanessa Grieve
Electric vehicles have been around for a while, but higher fuel prices and an urge to move away from dependence upon foreign oil has spurred more manufacturers and utility companies to investigate infrastructure needs for such vehicles, and for an interested public.
The number of electric vehicles (including hybrids) on U.S. roads is still relatively small compared to conventional gasoline or
“Right now you’re talking… solely about 30,000 (Nissan) LEAFS and (Chevrolet) Volts, like 14 million cars as a percentage it is still pretty low,” said Jim Francfort, the lead investigator for the Idaho National Laboratory’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity.
The INL, located in East Idaho, collects data for a number of projects under the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Vehicle Testing Activity (AVTA) umbrella.
The AVTA program — made up of numerous research and testing projects — has collected more than 90 million miles worth of driving data from more than 11,400 vehicles, made up of 115 vehicle models, and collects about 1 million miles of data every 5.7 days according to Francfort.
Francfort has studied electronic vehicles since the early 1990s and even still there are many “unknowns” surrounding electric vehicles, but recent testing initiatives are giving researchers, agencies, manufacturers and electric utilities vital information to make improvements to vehicles and utility infrastructure.
Within the past decade vehicle manufactures have striven to produce fuel efficient models utilizing battery and electric power with little or no fuel use.
“The goal is reducing petroleum consumption by boosting energy efficiency (mileage) and enhance the energy security,” Francfort said.
One of the larger vehicle testing programs the INL is supporting is ECOtality North America’s EV Project.
The EV Project is comprised of nearly 8,000 voluntary participants in locations throughout the United States.
The goal to better understand the technology and make improvements not only to the vehicles, but infrastructure, from power plant to charging station. Another end result would be decreasing fuel consumption and harmful pollutants from vehicle emissions.
People who voluntarily enroll in the EV Project when purchasing a new LEAF (a PVE or plug-in Electric Vehicle) or Volt (an EREV or Extended Range Electric Vehicle) are given a free charging system which collects various usage data from a residence (an EVSE or Electric Vehicle System Equipment), plus a credit for installation. Francfort said out-of-pocket, the charging systems furnished to participants typically cost about $1,500.
Current tests are collecting data from vehicle fast charge systems. Vehicles have been charging at about 220 volts, but about 7,500 vehicles in the EV Project are equipped with a dual-port DC Fast Charge (DCFC) system, which charges vehicles at about 440 volts.
“It’s an infrastructure focused study, how do the cars and people use that infrastructure,” Francfort said.
The study looks at when, where and how people use charging systems and how charging times coincide with energy rate systems.
Charging fees and permitting fees data is also collected. Charging fees are less expensive for residential use and in off-peak hours. Vehicle permitting fees can vary greatly. Throughout the municipalities surveyed, permitting ranged in price from $7.50 to $500.
Drivers also tend to charge at home instead of paying $1 at public charging stations, Francfort said. He said it’s cheaper to charge at home instead of on the road, but at some point people may not have the luxury to charge at home.
“In San Francisco they’ve been more aggressive at giving incentives to people to charge at night,” Francfort said. “Where do people charge in the public domain? Do they charge in the workplace or highway charging station. We have a total of 44 databases that handle all of the data streaming and facets of the reporting.”
The data tracking allows the INL to map the data using a Geographic Information System (GIS) to visually show utilities usage trends.
The AVTA staff also looks at battery storage, performance and life cycle.
Recently, plans for testing in New York and New York City have come together. Francfort said six LEAFs will join the ranks of New York City’s cab service along with Level 2 (L2), 240 volt, charging and DCFC systems.
“There are about 40,000 cabs in the city,” he said. “The mayor would like to replace a third of them. This is the first step.”
The AVTA is currently comparing the L2 charging system to the DCFC, 480 volts, system. The project is only about 10,000 miles in, using six LEAFS — three in each charging category. Preliminary findings show “no significant difference” in battery life.
In April, the INL will start testing a wireless charging system, one in the lab and one on a car.
Francfort says he gets excited when talking about the research and the findings with these electric vehicles.
“These are mostly DOE funded technologies and most have done fairly well,” Francfort said. “I get more excited about the EV Project to see how people are driving them.”
As data is collected it is put into facts sheets and is posted online at http://avt.inel.gov/evproject.shtml. Additional information about the testing projects can be found on the above website. Information about EV Project can be found online at www.theevproject.com.